Standing up for Myself

The Button Box


When we moved to a new town, I got a job after school. I worked afternoons and evenings as the soda jerk and also as waitress for the restaurant part of the business.
Working the restaurant part was sure different than being a soda jerk in the drug store but I soon learned to keep what each person ordered straight in my mind just as I could the soda fountain orders.
The restaurant sat on the East side of Main Street. The dining area was on the front facing the street. The entrance was on the South side of the building. There were booths down the West wall and then a counter with stools on the East wall. The counter had an opening in the middle to allow for flow in and out of the kitchen. On the north wall between the booths and the counter sat the large juke box, which took up most of the space there.
Through a wide square arch on the East wall behind the counter was the kitchen. The kitchen had a stainless counter that ran down the west wall, starting just inside the wide arch and all along the North wall with the huge grill in the middle.
Sitting in front of the grill was a large stainless steel island, 10 feet long and 5 feet wide, with shelves under it. It was closed on three sides and open on the side facing the grill. The shelves were used to store supplies and pots and pans.
Then through another wide arch and in the back of the building was the ice cream freezers, the soft serve machine and the soft drink machines that took up most of the room. The window where the kids could order without coming in was on the South wall of the kitchen. It was probably one of the first drive-up windows.
I worked there evenings and Saturdays through fall and winter and then the next summer I started working everyday as the soda jerk and waitress. I became good friends with the evening cook while working the evening shift.
The evening cook waited for the owner to leave every night and then would get a screw driver and open the juke box. She had figured out how to change something inside so we could punch the numbers and it would play without the change. If someone put money in it, it still worked like it should.
One evening the cook and I were talking in the kitchen and she told me about the night she was working alone and had trouble with a guy that kept coming into the kitchen. She told me she had something she wanted me to see and said I was to remember it was always there.
She said after she showed it to the guy one time it made a lasting impression on him and the word spread around town and no one bothered her after that. Now I was really curious as to what she had hidden in the kitchen.
We were standing between the grill and the island, while she was cooking a hamburger, during our conversation. She said, “This is my little equalizer. I always keep it under the island on the shelf.” She then reached in and picked up something to show me.
When she stood up she said, “This is my knife and it will always be under this counter.” The knife in her hand was a foot and half long and at the widest point was 3-4 inches across. I know one thing, it scared the heck out of me when I looked at it and I knew it would scare anyone stupid enough to come back into the kitchen when she told them not to.
Late one afternoon a month later the boss told me the evening cook was sick and he couldn’t work that evening either and asked if I could do the cooking and waitress by myself? The evenings were not usually that busy so I told him I could handle it, if not I would call my Mother and have her come over and help with the cooking.
We closed at 9:00 so at 8:00 I turned the volume up on the juke box and started to clean up. I had cleaned the booths and the counter area in the front and the back fountain area by 8:30 and was cleaning the kitchen when 4 men came in. A lot of men from out of state came to that county every year to work in the sugar beet fields. They were usually really polite and easy to deal with in the Dairy King.
I was cleaning the island by the grill when 4 men came in the door; three of them sat down immediately at the counter. The fourth one (tall and stocky built and wearing a white t-shirt and cut off jeans) started to walk behind the counter toward the kitchen. I told him to stay out of the kitchen; that I would be right out.
He said something and I didn’t understand what he mumbled so this time I yelled at him, “DO NOT COME INTO THE KITCHEN!!” He continued to walk toward me and when he was inside the kitchen he started to walk behind the island where I was standing.
At that point I remembered what the evening cook had told me and I bent over and reached for the equalizer she kept under the island. It was right where she said it would be and my hand closed around the handle on the first try.
I straightened up with the knife in my hand and held it waist high in front of me pointed straight at the guy. His eyes got big as saucers as he looked from the knife to my face and then back at the knife. He was trying to decide if I would follow through with my threat. When he took one more step toward me. I said to him in a calm voice, “Leave the kitchen now!”
He gave me a smug look and closed the distance between himself and the end of the knife. The point was 1/2 inch away from his stomach when he stopped moving. I had lost all patience with this guy at that point and moved the knife forward so it was touching his shirt.
He looked me in the eye and started to step toward me again. As soon as I saw his foot leave the floor I made a quick jab with the knife, this time he felt the tip against his stomach. It didn’t go through the t-shirt or cut his skin but it sure made a dent in his stomach and he finally knew I meant business.
He began to back away and when he was a safe distance away he turned and bolted out of the kitchen yelling at his buddies sitting at the counter about that crazy woman with a knife.
The three sitting on the stools had not moved a muscle or hardly breathed after the knife appeared but when he ran past them they bolted off the counter stools in unison, like they were conjoined triplets, and followed him out the door.
During the whole encounter I was very calm like I always am in the middle of a crisis; it is after the incident that I fall apart. I can only remember being angry that he wouldn’t listen to me and get out of the kitchen.
The word must have spread all over the county about the confrontation. From the day I learned to stand up for myself I didn’t have trouble with anyone that came into the Dairy King during my evening shift. To contact Sandy: [email protected]


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